The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by 38 other news outlets and media organizations, has sent a letter to St. Louis County officials protesting the recent filing of criminal charges against two reporters over incidents that occurred during the protests in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.
"The best way for Ferguson to show that it will respect the First Amendment rights of journalists covering the continuing controversy there is to rescind these charges immediately," the letter stated.
"The fact that these journalists were kept from doing their jobs was troublesome enough. But the fact that your office – after having had time to reflect on police actions for a full year – has chosen to pursue criminal prosecution now is astonishing," the letter also noted.
The coalition letter called the charges against Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly "particularly egregious, as they were not even involved in a contentious or dangerous atmosphere. They were instead sitting in a McDonald’s, recharging their phones. The journalists were ordered to leave a public restaurant, and while they were leaving, they asked questions and videotaped the officers. This is perfectly lawful and appropriate behavior, does not justify the officers’ decision to arrest them for 'disobeying' an order, and certainly cannot justify a trespassing charge in a restaurant open to the public."
Noting that decisions made by police in the heat of the violence chaos surrounding the rioting that followed the shooting of a young African-American man by a white police officer may be difficult, but should nevertheless respect journalists' newsgathering rights, the media letter gave no such leeway to prosecutors. "With a full year to review the situation and decide what actions constitute a crime, prosecutors have no excuse for making poor judgment calls that do not respect First Amendment rights."
Joining the Reporters Committee on the letter are: American Society of News Editors; AOL Inc. – The Huffington Post; The Associated Press; Association of Alternative Newsmedia; Bloomberg News; Cable News Network, Inc.; California Newspaper Publishers Association; The Center for Investigative Reporting; Committee to Protect Journalists; Courthouse News Service; Criminal Justice Journalists; The Daily Beast Company LLC; Daily News, LP; The E.W. Scripps Company; First Amendment Coalition; First Look Media, Inc.; Forbes Media LLC; Freedom of the Press Foundation; Hearst Corporation; Inter American Press Association; Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; The Kansas City Star; The McClatchy Company; The Media Consortium; MPA – The Association of Magazine Media; The National Press Club; National Press Photographers Association; National Public Radio, Inc.; New England Newspaper and Press Association, Inc.; Newspaper Association of America; North Jersey Media Group Inc.; Online News Association; Radio Television Digital News Association; Reporters Without Borders; Society of Professional Journalists; Student Press Law Center; Tully Center for Free Speech; and The Washington Post.
About the Reporters Committee
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded by leading journalists and media lawyers in 1970, at a time when the nation’s news media faced a wave of government subpoenas asking reporters to name confidential sources. Today it provides legal resources, and support to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists. Funded by corporate, foundation, and individual contributions, the Reporters Committee serves the nation’s leading news organizations; thousands of reporters, editors, and media lawyers; and many more who use our online and mobile resources. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.